Does snoring keep you awake all night?

Can you identify with the following scenario?

Every night the same ritual plays out in the bedroom. She goes to sleep before her husband does, and then she’s awakened by the sound of his snoring and often moves to another room. Multiply that scenario by a few million, and you’ll get a sense of what’s going on in couples’ bedrooms all over the country.

The NHS says almost half of people in the UK snore sometimes and around a quarter of us are regular snorers.

This cannot only have an impact on how well you sleep but can negatively affect relationships between bed partners.  Banishing your bed partner to another room, however, isn’t always a sound approach. A better solution would, of course, be to cure the snoring, because it can be a sign of more serious health problems that require treatment.

What causes snoring?

To no one’s surprise, the largest group of run-of-the-mill snorers is the middle-aged and older man, but snoring is more common than most people realise. 30% of adults over the age of 30 snore, and women make up one-third of those snorers. Benign snoring, as it’s called, is caused by “upper airway turbulence” that leads to vibrations of the soft palate and the uvula (that little flap that hangs down at the back of the throat).

When you think about it, the fact that snoring increases with age makes sense. As we age we lose muscle tone everywhere, including in our palates, which become flabby and thus more susceptible to vibration. Allergies or being overweight can also contribute to snoring. Drinking alcohol before bedtime, which relaxes the muscles in the airway, is another potential cause. Or you may simply have been born to snore due to having a larger tongue or palatte

When is snoring a serious sleep problem?

Snoring has been fodder for humourists for centuries. However, it’s really not that funny to be kept awake all night, and it’s even less amusing when the noise is a sign of a serious health problem, known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), is a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops for brief periods during sleep because the throat muscles can’t keep the airway consistently open. This leads to fragmented sleep and lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which in turn puts people at risk for cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease, not to mention daytime fatigue.

The NHS says OSA is a relatively common condition that affects men more than women. About 3.5% of men and 1.5% of women have OSA. The condition is most common in people aged 40 or over, but it can affect people of all ages, including children.

Since snorers rarely wake themselves, their bed partners play a critical role in making sure they get help. Therefore, leaving the room, or kicking your partner out of bed, is a bad idea, because then no one can monitor the nature of the snoring.

If a woman observes that her husband is snorting, gasping or puffing, or if his snoring isn’t steady but goes up and down in volume, he should be evaluated for sleep apnoea. Likewise, if your bed partner notices these symptoms in you, you should be evaluated. Most primary care physicians don’t routinely ask about sleep habits, so it’s important to bring the topic up yourself and get a referral to a sleep specialist, if necessary.

Is there a cure for snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea?

Fortunately, treatments exist to help snorers and those with obstructive sleep apnoea. You can use oral devices to help you solve the problem and the products made and designed here in Britain are ‘NHS Recommended’.

These appliances hold the tongue and jaw in such a way that the airway remains open and have been found to be quite effective for benign snorers, with success rates ranging up to 80%. They can also be effective for OSA, although at lower rates of success up to 50%. What’s key, say experts, is to have one that is custom fit but try the standard version first.

By John Redfern